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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 August, 2004, 10:43 GMT 11:43 UK
Film music loses leading light
Elmer Bernstein
Elmer Bernstein was much loved in Hollywood, particularly by directors
Elmer Bernstein's death at the age of 82 has robbed the world of film scores of one its greatest masters.

His theme for classic Western The Magnificent Seven makes it into any greatest of all time list, and the music for the Great Escape echoes around every England football match.

As a boy in New York, Elmer Bernstein shone at dancing and acting, but was even more talented at the piano and was hailed as a prodigy.

At the age of 12, he was performing at concert halls, and when he impressed the composer Aaron Copland with his improvisations, he provided a hint of the remarkable career to come.

After writing music for forces' projects during the war, he arrived in Hollywood, launching his career there with the music for Sudden Fear, a thriller starring Joan Crawford and Jack Palance.

Bernstein's versatility was amply demonstrated in the mid-1950s. During the year-long process of scoring the music for the Cecil B DeMille epic, The Ten Commandments, he was hired to write the music for The Man with the Golden Arm.

His jazz score not only succeeded in reflecting the emotions of the heroin-addicted jazz musician, played by Frank Sinatra, but also became much imitated.

Bernstein followed up his success with another jazz score for the film, The Sweet Smell of Success and electrified the opening titles of Walk on the Wild Side.

Single Oscar

Then he made a radical departure with one of his personal favourites - the sparsely-orchestrated music for To Kill a Mockingbird.

Elmer Bernstein eventually won an Oscar for Thoroughly Modern Millie, even though he only wrote the dramatic score, not the songs, and felt he was being compensated for many unsuccessful nominations.

There were many other impressive film scores - among them True Grit, My Left Foot and Scorsese period drama The Age of Innocence.

He also worked on many of Hollywood's most mainstream comedy hits, including Animal House, Airplane, The Blues Brothers and Ghostbusters.

This was the man who composed the music for the ballet sequence in Oklahoma and - 30 years later - scored the video for Michael Jackson's Thriller.

The last of his 14 Oscar nominations came as recently as 2002 for the 50s-set melodrama Far From Heaven.

In all of his works, Bernstein sought to complement the message of the film, like The Great Escape, which he saw as not so much an action-tale, but more one of human spirit.

The BBC's Chris Jones looks back at Bernstein's life
"At the age of 12 he was performing at concert halls"

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